Researchers at the University of Sydney have successfully managed to store light-based information as sound waves on a computer chip for the first time. The successful conversion and reversion of light-based information to sound waves will help in the development of photonic computers, which are claimed to be 20 times faster than current electronic computers.
As the processing power of computers continues to increase, there are laws of physics that start to create practical problems. For instance, using electrons to transfer data is limited by the speed of electrons, and electronic resistance generates heat, a fact most of us who use laptops and smartphones are well aware of.
A new microchip developed by researchers from the University of Sydney could change that. This chip, fabricated at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), takes data stored in photons and converts them to sounds waves, and then back to the optical domain.
Photons — the particles that make up light — are very good carriers of information, and since they do not have any charge — unlike electrons — they do not cause any heating even as they travel over very long distances through fiber-optic cables. Also, they travel much faster than electrons, meaning computer networks that use photons would be much faster than traditional digital networks relying on electrons. Photons are also impervious to disturbances caused by electromagnetic radiation.
This makes photons an ideal candidate to use in computing, and a lot of research is being done in the field of opto-photonics. However, the speed of photons also creates an inherent problem: they travel too fast for computers to actually process the data being carried by them, therefore making them potentially useless. This problem could be overcome if the photons could somehow be slowed down for processing, before being sent on their way again at their usual speed. And this is where the new microchip comes in.